Barry v. Coombe (1828)

In Barry v. Coombe (1828) 26 U.S. 640, the defendant argued that the memorandum to sell real estate was unenforceable because it did not meet the Maryland Statute of Frauds, i.e., it did not contain essential terms. The memorandum stated: "By my purchase of your E. B. wharf and premises this day as agreed on between us, $7578.63." The United States Supreme Court held that "brief as it is, this memorandum contains a condensed summary of all the essentials to a complete contract." (26 U.S. at 651.) As explained later in this opinion, it then used extrinsic evidence to more fully identify the ambiguous "E.B. Wharf" to be sold. The Supreme Court said: "Sir Francis Bacon in his elements of common law (Regula 23), is the author usually referred to on this distribution of ambiguities, into patent and latent; the former appearing on the face of the instrument, and not to be removed by extrinsic evidence, but only, in the language of the author, `to be holpen by construction or election'; the latter raised by reference to extrinsic circumstances, and remediable by the same means. It would, perhaps, be a more convenient, and certainly, a more intelligible distribution of the doctrine on this subject, if the cases were divided into positive, relative and mixed; the positive corresponding to the patent; and the relative to the latent ambiguities of the authors who treat of the subject. The mixed, would consist of those cases in which, although the ambiguity is suggested on the face of the instrument, the face of the instrument also suggests the medium by which the ambiguity may be removed."